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NL Central Notes: Iglesias, Cubs, Pirates

In the wake of Raisel Iglesias’s newly-signed deal with the Reds, Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer suggests that Iglesias may operate in an altered role for the club in 2019, which may have been part of the team’s motivation to guarantee his salary for the next three seasons. Having worked as the Reds’ full-time closer for the previous two years, Iglesias may be utilized in a greater variety of game situations moving forward. Free of added pressure to eclipse certain statistical benchmarks as a means of boosting his arbitration salary, Iglesias may feel more comfortable pitching in non-save situations, allowing new manager David Bell to deploy his best bullpen weapon in a more versatile role. General manager Dick Williams acknowledged that getting Iglesias and team management on the same page was a factor in finalizing a new contract with his star reliever; now, Iglesias and the team can concern themselves solely with winning games, rather than worrying about the counting stats that influence arbitration salaries.

All this is not to say that Iglesias has struggled as a closer; in fact, he has excelled in the role, converting 58 of 64 save opportunities over the last two years and notching a 2.43 ERA over that span. Rather, this will simply grant Bell and new pitching coach Derek Johnson increased flexibility in their usage of Iglesias as they seek to maximize his value. It should be noted that Josh Hader, who often pitched multiple innings and entered in high-leverage situations regardless of inning, pitched under Johnson when he served as the Brewers’ pitching coach for the last three seasons.

More from around the NL Central…

  • Following Jim Hickey’s departure from the team, the Cubs may have found a favorite to fill their vacant pitching coach position from within the organization. The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma writes that Tommy Hottovy, who currently serves as the club’s run prevention coordinator, has emerged as a leading candidate to seize the job, although no final decision has been made. Just 37, Hottovy has endeared himself to players and coaches up and down the organization, and his presence may help quell some of the uncertainty that comes with Hickey’s unexpected resignation. He has been touted for his communication skills and analytical inclination, and his working relationship with catching coach Mike Borzello has been cited as part of the reason for the team’s sustained pitching success despite coaching instability. Hottovy and Borzello have been credited with tapping into the potential of numerous pitchers over the years, fueling breakouts from Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and others. Furthermore, he would provide a familiarity that President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein covets, much like newly-hired hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, who worked in the Cubs organization from 2013-15.
  • The Pirates have hired Jacob Cruz to be their assistant hitting coach, writes Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Cruz previously worked as the Cubs’ minor-league hitting coordinator, a position he earned after joining the organization in 2017 as the Double-A hitting coach. Cruz’s departure represents yet another point of turnover for the Cubs’ coaching staff: the team will also need to fill holes left by fired hitting coach Chili Davis and pitching coach Jim Hickey, who has chosen to step down for personal reasons. For the Pirates, Cruz will join new hitting coach Rick Eckstein in the club’s overhauled hitting department. Alongside Eckstein, he will look to hone the potential of Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco, among others, in order to reinvigorate an offense that ranked 10th in the National League in runs scored.

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